Pope Francis and Imam Syed Rahman share a problem. They want to have it both ways when it comes to LGBT people.
The Pope tells us to love gays and lesbians. Yet he sticks with the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine that homosexuality is a mortal sin.
Rahman offered me the same seeming contradiction Sunday, hours after the shooting massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando that morning – an atrocity committed by Omar Mateen, who belonged to Rahman’s mosque, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce.
Like the overwhelming majority of Muslims, Rahman strongly condemns what Mateen did. And like the Pope, he says he preaches respect for LGBT people.
“We do not ask people who come here if you are homosexual or not,” Rahman said.
But he added that Islam too considers homosexuality a sin, on par with wrongs like “lying, stealing or drugs.”
After Orlando, leaders of all faiths have expressed welcome solidarity with the LGBT community. But they’re leaving something out: Most religions continue to brand that community’s lifestyle as unnatural, unhealthy and immoral.
As Rahman noted, the traditional doctrines of all three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – say homosexuality is sinful. Buddhism and Hinduism aren’t crazy about it, either.
Those doctrines don’t condone harming let alone killing gay people. Just the opposite, says Abdul Samra, imam of the Islamic Center of Greater Florida in Miami Gardens.
“As Muslims, as basic principle, we have to stand with oppressed people like gays and lesbians,” Samra says. “If he or she is a sinner that is between them and God.”
Still, those same gays and lesbians feel that’s a mixed message that raises the question: Are the doctrines that disparage LGBT people themselves a form of oppression?
Consider homophobia was a key motivation for the Orlando shooter (who, reports say, may have been gay himself). He appears to have at least sympathized with Islamic extremism. And while his Muslim father denounces the massacre, he too says, “God will punish homosexuals.”
So by holding on to doctrine that essentially demonizes homosexuals, do our religions run the very real risk of sending signals to explosively disturbed believers like Mateen that it’s OK to attack homosexuals?
“If somebody is not of right mind with a very extreme point of view, they can draw the wrong conclusion even from somebody as esteemed as the Pope,” says Mark Kram, the rabbi at Temple Beth Or, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Miami.
Orthodox and other conservative wings of Judaism maintain homosexuality is immoral. But Reconstructionist and Reform Judaism do not. In fact, they ordain gay rabbis.
That’s because they no longer consider ancient scripture on the matter as binding – especially since science no longer deems homosexuality a psychological deviation but simply a biological variation.
“We don’t look at those doctrines as being from God,” says Kram. “We view the Hebrew Bible as a document that was written by human beings. So for us it’s not doctrine.”
Scripture re-interpretation is growing among Christian churches as well – especially the Episcopal Church, which also ordains LGBT people. More conservative denominations like the Presbyterian Church have moved that way too.
“Looking at a text as a fundamentalist doesn’t make sense,” says the Rev. Martha Shiverick, who leads the Riviera Presbyterian Church in Miami and rejects Biblical censure of homosexuality. “These texts will often contradict each other.”
Now that gay marriage is legal in the U.S., Riviera Presbyterian marries LGBT couples.
“We don’t have to hide doing those weddings anymore,” says Shiverick. “I see all these religions moving toward more inclusion.”
That assessment might be too optimistic regarding the leadership of the world’s two largest faiths – Islam and Catholicism.
Islamic reform groups like the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity have emerged recently. But Islam experts say the Koran’s rule that homosexuality is fahisha, or immoral, won’t change any time soon.
Nor do Muslim leaders buy the notion that the doctrine could provoke genuine Muslims to violence like Mateen’s.
“ISIL takes homosexuals and throws them from the rooftops,” he says. “These are thugs, criminals.”
As for the Catholic Church, a special synod on the family last year kept anti-homosexuality doctrine etched in Vatican marble.
But of all the expressions of religious solidarity with the LGBT community this week, St. Petersburg Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch’s was unusually honest. On his blog he wrote:
“[S]adly, it is religion, including our own…which often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.”
And that, he said, “can ultimately lead to violence.”